The Hunt for October- 2016 MLB Playoff Predictions
At last, October is upon us! Aside from everything great about October that we all know and love (Halloween, pumpkins and their subsequent spiced lattes, and the sweet spot of FALL), this month brings us one of the most magical times of the year- the Major League Baseball Playoffs.
Around the league, there seems to be a major theme in storylines regarding the 10 teams playing for a World Series title this year: Fairytales. We've got teams playing to break curses, teams looking for their first title, and even teams looking to solidify dynasties.
Chicago Cubs (103-58), NL Central Champions
Just about everyone in baseball is anxiously awaiting to see what the Chicago Cubs will bring to the table this October. The North Side's lovable losers- as we're all aware- haven't won a World Series since 1908 (108 years). In fact, they haven't even advanced to the World Series since 1945. With a stellar rotation featuring Jake Arrietta and Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel and John Lackey (their entire rotation is in the top 20 for pitching in the National League), an MVP candidate in Kris Bryant, an All-Star Game starting infield, and a fantastic closer in Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs have the league's best record this year, as they were the only team to win over 100 games. All signs point to a return to the Fall Classic, and perhaps even a win for the city that's been hurting for so long without one.
Cleveland Indians (94-67), AL Central Champions
Next, we have the Cleveland Indians- the team with the second longest World Series drought, clocking in at 68 years (their last title was in 1948)- although they last made it to the World Series in 1994 and 1997. Manager Terry Francona has managed to keep this team above water for nearly six months, dealing with major injuries and setbacks along the way. While the rotation has a lot of question marks entering this month (Kluber almost back from injury but a few other starters on the shelf), Francona has been able to use his bullpen's arms to great effect, particularly that of trade deadline-acquisition Andrew Miller. Even though they're the American League's second seed, I consider this team to be a big underdog headed into Thursday's date with the Red Sox.
Boston Red Sox (93-69), AL East Champions
Speaking of the Red Sox- the boys from Boston scored another worst-to-first season this year, doing it once before in 2013 (where they won the World Series, you may remember). The Sox have much to be thankful for: they've got two incredible starters, between offseason pickup David Price and the should-be AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello; they've got three players with over 30 home runs: Hanley Ramirez, the unexpected AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts, and the man who is having one of the most sensational final seasons of all time, David Ortiz, who leads the team with 38 homers. When this team gets rolling, it's an offensive juggernaut- scoring the most runs in the majors with 878, outscoring the next best team in baseball (Colorado) by 23, and the next best in the American League (Cleveland) by over 100. With an improved, but still- let's say enigmatic- rotation and bullpen, look for the Sox to make waves this postseason, as they try to win their fourth World Series in 12 years, and hopefully send Big Papi out on a high note.
Washington Nationals (95-67), NL East Champions
Next, we've got the Washington Nationals, my sleeper pick to win the World Series this year. The Nats won only one World Series title while they were the Senators, and never came close when they were the Montreal Expos. This year could change all that. With Max Scherzer leading the charge now that NL Cy Young candidate Stephen Strasberg is out due to injury, the Nationals bring to the table an under the radar, explosive offense that could prove troublesome for their NLDS opponent, the Los Angeles Dodgers, particularly in the form of offseason pickup Daniel Murphy, who hit home runs in six consecutive playoff games for the Mets last year, although he hasn't started since September 17th due to a butt injury. You've also got Bryce Harper, who is far and away one of the best all-around players in baseball. Don't let the big name Cubs and Red Sox draw your focus away from this underappreciated team this October.
Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71), NL West Champions
At the All-Star Break, the Los Angeles Dodgers were six games out of first place in the National League West. Here we are in the first weekend of October, where they won the division by four games over the San Francisco Giants, clinching in late September on a walk-off blast on Vin Scully's final game broadcasting from Dodger Stadium. Now that ace Clayton Kershaw is back from injury, the Dodgers can give it another solid run at a World Series championship. Their last title came in 1988, when they beat the A's, four games to one (see Gibson, Kirk). A player flying under the radar this year is Josh Reddick, who has a great ability to get hot when it matters most for a stretch of time. Given the fact that this team has been plagued with injuries, it's impressive that they've made it this far.
Texas Rangers (95-67), AL West Champions
Next, the Texas Rangers, who are also looking for their first World Series title, after posting back-to-back American League Pennants in 2010 and 2011. The Rangers have the one-two punch of Cole Hammels and Yu Darvish, who hasn't had a chance to show off in October yet. Second baseman Rougned Odor is one to watch, and players like Adrian Beltre, who has single-handedly put the entire team on his back with 32 homers and 104 RBIs. Take a look at reliever Matt Bush as well, if you want a feel-good story. Bush was the first overall pick at shortstop for the San Diego Padres back in 2004. Drinking problems forced him to take a hiatus from the game, and he was put in prison in 2012 due to multiple DUI's. Bush, entering his rookie season as a converted pitcher at the age of 30, has the ability to be lights out, striking out an average of one batter per inning this season. The Rangers are the American League's top seed. Don't be surprised if they win their first title this year, either.
San Francisco Giants (87-75) & New York Mets (87-75)
Now, we have the four Wild Card teams. The San Francisco Giants, while blowing that huge division lead to the Dodgers, have won every World Series that has taken place on an even-numbered year in this decade (2010, 2012, and 2014). They're in the playoffs again, with Madison Bumgarner looking to summon the one-man work horse that won the Giants the 2014 Series against Kansas City. Their opponents, the New York Mets, faced off against those same Royals in the World Series last year, ultimately losing in 5 games. This year's Mets team has one less Daniel Murphy and a few less pitchers, with stud Jacob DeGrom going down with injury. However, the team can still rally behind players like P Noah Syndergaard and OF Yoenis Cespedes. How fun would an NLCS rematch be if the Mets were to get through to the NLDS and face the Cubs?
Baltimore Orioles (89-73) & Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)
In the American League, we have two teams who came up just short in the AL East- the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. These two franchises have represented the division the last two years in the ALCS. Toronto has a fantastic lineup, which features last year's AL MVP Josh Donaldson, the ever-popular Jose Bautista, catcher Russell Martin, the long ball hitting Edwin Encarnacion, and local Superman, outfielder Kevin Pillar. The Jays also feature Aaron Sanchez, who lead the American League in ERA this season with a solid 3.00. It should be mentioned that the Blue Jays also feature J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, who also place in the top 15 in the American League in pitching. Their opponents, the Baltimore Orioles, live and die by the home run. Case and point: O's DH Mark Trumbo, who has hit a whopping 47 this season for the team, with teammate Chris Davis coming in with 32. It's also worth noting that their closer, Zach Britton, converted in every single save opportunity that he was presented with this season, with a 0.54 ERA this season. If Baltimore catches fire, watch out.
Now, the fun part. Here are my predictions for the 2016 Major League Baseball Postseason:
Wild Card Round:
AL- Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays- Tuesday, October 4th @ 8:00pm (TBS)
Starters: Chris Tillman (BAL) vs. Marcus Stroman (TOR)
You live by the home run, you die by the home run. Stroman will be able to pick apart the Orioles' offense, and pitchers like Marcel Osuna will shut the O's down in the late innings. Tillman hasn't been the same since he's suffered all that shoulder inflammation and the Jays will jump all over it. Toronto moves on to Texas.
NL- San Francisco Giants at New York Mets- Wednesday, October 5th @ 8:00pm (ESPN)
Starters: Madison Bumgarner (SF) vs. Noah Syndergaard (NYM)
I really, really like this matchup. It will be a pitching duel if I've ever seen one. Bumgarner has had to pitch on the road before, beating the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and Syndergaard is still ready and willing as ever. I see a low scoring game, something like 2-1, with the Mets making a mistake in the late innings. Giants win this one, and rumblings begin to stir as the Giants could win their fourth World Series since 2010.
Winner: San Francisco.
ALDS- Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays- Begins Friday, October 7th (TBS)
Toronto leads season series, 4-3.
I don't really care what the season series is. What matters is that the Rangers are the most underrated team in the American League for these playoffs, and when they make quick work of the Blue Jays, everyone will see exactly what we're dealing with here. I say Toronto gets one back at home, but the Rangers finish them off relatively quickly.
Prediction: Texas wins series, 3-1.
ALDS- Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox- Begins Thursday, October 6th (TBS)
Boston leads season series, 4-2.
The Red Sox come out strong in this first round, and the Indians with their array of injuries, have a lot of trouble stopping them. Everyone will be surprised when Cory Kluber beats Rick Porcello in Cleveland in Game 1, but David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Clay Buchholz will show solid outings, en route to a 3-1 series win for the Sox. With Cleveland's pitchers like Carrasco and Salazar injured, Boston should be able to lay on the hurt. Red Sox clinch at home. Ortiz has a clutch home run at some point this series.
Prediction: Boston wins series, 3-1.
NLDS- Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants- Begins Friday, October 7th (FS1)
Chicago leads season series, 4-3.
On paper, this series looks incredible. You've got the MadBum against the Bleacher Bums and their team, the Cubs. However, this is 2016, and it's literally just that. With Bumgarner out after pitching in the Wild Card game, the Giants will have to use other members of their rotation, which just isn't scary. The Cubs rotation, however, is quite scary. The Cubs throttle the Giants in game one at Wrigley Field and never look back, ending the Giants' hopes for a World Series title.
Prediction: Chicago wins series, 3-0.
NLDS- Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers- Begins Thursday, October 6th (FS1)
Los Angeles leads season series, 5-1.
We have the Dodgers, who have Clayton Kershaw, and the Nationals, who counter with Max Scherzer. After that, it's Rich Hill (LAD) against Tanner Roark (WAS), then Kento Maeda (LAD) vs. Gio Gonzalez (WAS). Unfortunately for the Nationals, the loss of Stephen Strasburg will prove fatal, as the team's injuries prevent the team from grinding against their NL West opponents, particularly taking into account the lack of play from Daniel Murphy and the loss of Wilson Ramos. It'll be close, but I think the Dodgers pull this one out.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins series, 3-2.
League Championship Series
ALCS- Boston Red Sox vs. Texas Rangers (TBS)
Season series tied, 3-3.
A precarious matchup, if I do say so myself. Can the Red Sox keep themselves from imploding against this Rangers team? Can the Rangers control this mighty Boston lineup? I think we'll get some brilliant pitching duels in this series, between Price, Porcello, Hammels and Darvish. It'll all be up to the rest of the pitching staffs to keep the series under control. One thing the Red Sox need to learn to get right before this series is to keep the bullpen locked down so as to secure any slim, late game leads. And with closer Craig Kimbrel effectively useless in non-save situations (but also in pretty much all situations, who are we kidding), they need to make sure that if they get a lead, they keep it. Texas' 36-11 record in one-run games is a league best. Boston is 20-24 in those games, the worst among all 10 playoff teams this year. This will be a season-defining moment for both franchises, although I think the Red Sox have more to lose here.
Prediction: Boston wins series, 4-3.
NLCS- Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (FOX)
Chicago leads season series, 4-3.
Chicago's pitching staff and lineup are just head and shoulders above the rest of the National League. They can and will attack you from both and offensive and pitching standpoint. After Kershaw, who is still nursing and injury, the Dodgers have some pretty capable pitchers, but the Cubs rotation and bullpen is just too strong. Even if Arietta's performance has dropped off, Hendricks and Lester lead the NL in ERA, and John Lackey is a postseason-tested veteran. Conspiracy theorists rejoice- the Cubs are sweeping their way to a World Series.
Prediction: Chicago wins series, 4-0.
2016 World Series
Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs (FOX)
Teams did not play each other this season.
Well, baseball purists, here ya go. Your World Series dream matchup. Think about it. Doesn't the thought of this series make you salivate? We've got the original curse-breakers, the Red Sox, who, since breaking the Curse of the Bambino back in 2004, have won two more World Series titles, and are looking for their fourth in 12 years, against the Chicago Cubs, a franchise not exactly familiar with postseason success, because their entire existence has been wrought with misery, disappointment, and bad karma. They are looking for their first World Series championship in 108 years, after capturing their first League Pennant in 71 years. This will be a series that all who watched will remember forever. Both clubs are ingrained with the lifeblood of Theo Epstein, who guided the Red Sox to their World Series win in 2004. I predict a seven game slugfest, featuring incredible pitching performances and offensive showcases. When it comes down to it, I believe the Cubs are the all-around better team. They're good and deep enough to make a playoff run of this length. They're young, scrappy, and hungry, and they're not throwing away their shot. That's not to say that I don't think that 108 years of Billy Goats and Bartmans will come back to haunt them. The Red Sox are a lot better offensively. But as I've said from the beginning, their instability at the pitching position will be their doom. In a baseball season full of surprises, only one can prevail. Either the city of Chicago wins, Theo Epstein becomes the greatest general manager of all time, and every goat in Illinois can be put to rest, or the city of Boston wins, and David Ortiz gets to walk to Cooperstown with a fourth ring on his hand, an exclamation point at the end of an illustrious career. Which feel good story do you prefer? The Cubs win this one, sparking the greatest celebration in not just the history of sports, but the history of America. The world, even.
Prediction: Chicago wins series, 4-2.
Who's your pick to win the World Series? Leave a comment down below.
I enjoy making lists, countdowns, and making sense of the world that I see around me.